Let’s know about the top 9 Japanese horse. Many animals are commonly associated with Japan, some real and others mythical. Horses, however, are generally not included in the list. But horses have a deep history in Japan, having first arrived on the island from Mongolia between the 3rd and 6th centuries BCE. That said, there are good reasons why most people don’t picture horses when they think of Japan’s native animals.
Although many breeds originated in Japan, most of them are endangered or vulnerable, and many are now extinct. Nine Japanese breeds remain in the present, although many have been crossed with more familiar Western breeds. Still, some of these breeds exist in surprisingly small numbers. (1)
nine Japanese horse breeds
Officially, there are eight purebred horse breeds remaining in Japan. There are also special breeds that are not purely Japanese but are the result of crossing Japanese breeds with Western breeds. They can only be found in Japan, so we would still consider them to be Japanese breeds.
Dosanko horses are also known by another name that you may hear more often, Hokkaido. They are very small horses and are generally classified as ponies, standing on average around 13 hands tall. Of all the official Japanese breeds, the Hokkaido pony is the only one that is not considered endangered. In fact, about half of all living Japanese horses are Hokkaido ponies. (2)
The reason for the success of this breed is that they are very hardy, strong horses. They have no problem surviving the harsh winters of Japan and are well suited to the tough Japanese terrain on which they live.
Dosankos are known for their willing temperament, which makes them perfect for all kinds of work including military transport, heavy pulling, and farm work, and they are also used for pleasure riding. Typically, Dosanko horses are roan-colored, but they also come in many other solid colors.
Kadachim horses are not a pure Japanese breed. They were crossed with Western breeds to create larger horses, as mandated during the Meiji period. (3) However, if you visit Cape Shiria on the northeastern tip of the island of Honshu, you may see wild Kadchim horses.
Despite not being a pure Japanese breed, this breed has been designated as a National Treasure. Despite efforts to breed them with larger western horses, they are still short, although they have a stout, muscular build and are known for their incredible resilience to cold.
Like many Japanese breeds, they almost became extinct. In 2009, there were only seven Kadchim horses remaining. Today, due to increased security, their numbers have expanded to about 40 horses. (4)
The Kiso horses belong to Nagano, which is located on the Japanese island of Honshu, which is the largest and most populous of the islands of Japan. The Kiso horse is the only breed known to be native to the island of Honshu. Like most Japanese breeds, (5) Kiso horses were practically wiped out by the Edo mandate during the Meiji period. However, the breed still exists due to a single horse that survived the gelding.
All Kiso horses are domesticated in Japan, and they all survive thanks to the efforts of the Kiso Uma no Sato, a center dedicated solely to the preservation and continuation of the Kiso breed.
In this center you can see some of the remaining Kiso horses. Plus, for the right price, you can even ride them! It costs 2,000 yen to ride a Kiso horse for just 15 minutes, but the money helps keep the breed alive. At present, only 30 of these horses are left. (6)
In Japan, you can find Misaki horses, both domesticated and wild. You’re most likely to see Misaki wild horses at Cape Toei on the island of Kyushu, where they live in a national park. These horses are used to humans, but they are wild animals. While you can see wild horses in the national park, you cannot touch them and should never approach them.
Standing at an average height of 12 hands, these horses are very small and would be considered ponies in the West. When the Akizuki family of the Takanabe clan gathered several wild horses for breeding stock in 1967, it became the official start of the breed. However it is believed that they are descended from horses brought to the region around 2,000 years ago.
In 1953, the Misaki breed was named a Japanese National Treasure. But their numbers were so few that in 1973, just 20 years later, there were only 52 Misaki horses left in existence. Thankfully they are making a comeback, albeit at a slow pace. Currently, there are about 120 Misaki horses left.
The Miyako breed is an ancient breed that has survived for centuries. They have also endured through the World Wars and the Edo mandate, although the breed faces a very serious threat of extinction. It is unknown how many Miyako horses remain today, but their prospects are not looking great. By 2001, only 19 Miyako horses were left. This is up from the seven individuals who survived in 1983, but restoration efforts are proceeding very slowly.
Traditionally, Miyako horses were quite small in stature, and were often used for farming. Around the time of WWII, the breed began to be crossed with imported stallions in an effort to increase its size. While this helped make Miyako horses larger, averaging about 14 hands, it did little to help the breed survive, as numbers began to drop rapidly after WWII.
Noma horses are on average only 11 hands smaller in height. However, they are rather strong animals, especially given their compact size. They are also known for their agility. Traditionally, they were primarily used as pack animals because they can carry a considerable amount of weight but do not require much food due to their small size. But today, they are essentially just a tourist attraction, although they are sometimes used as therapy horses for children.
This breed is native to the island of Shikoku. They are originally from a specific district on the island that used to be called Noma, hence the name of the breed. The larger members of the breed were used by the military, while the smaller horses were given to farmers who mostly used them as pack animals.
Although the breed once flourished, their numbers declined drastically when breeding of smaller Japanese breeds was forbidden in an attempt to increase their size by cross-breeding with larger Western breeds. In 1978, there were only six individual Noma horses left on the planet. The Japanese government funded a reserve for the breed in 1989 to increase their numbers. Their numbers increased manifold, and in 2008, there were a total of 84 Noma horses.
The Tokara breed was originally known as the Kogashima as the breed comes from the Kogashima area of the Tokara Islands. They were first found in 1952, and their discovery was so significant that they were immediately labeled as a National Monument of Kagoshima. When discovered, only 43 crate horses were present. Unfortunately, due to mechanization, their numbers immediately began to decline. By 1974, only one crate horse remained on the island.
Thankfully, this is not the end of the breed’s story. That only crate horse was taken to Nakanoshima, where there were some crate horses that had previously been removed from the crater Islands. Thanks to concentrated breeding efforts, their numbers have multiplied, and today, there are over 100 crate horses.
Crate horses are strong, sturdy and hardworking. But there is little demand for hard-working horses in Japan, so they are rarely used for riding, work, or anything else, which is a major reason for the breed’s decline in the first place.
This breed is rare and extremely ancient. The breed is believed to date back to the 700s. They are from the island of Tsushima, located in the Strait of Korea. Since 1979, the breed has been protected and efforts are on to increase their numbers. The exact number of remaining Taishu horses is unknown, however, making it hard to predict how efforts are going.
Standing between 12 and 14 hands, Taishu horses are large for a Japanese breed, though still small by Western standards. Traditionally, they were found useful in a number of ways, including as riding horses, draft work, and as pack animals.
Yonaguni horses largely survived the Edo Mandate that led to the end of many other purebred Japanese horse breeds. As such, they are the purest and most ancient of all remaining Japanese breeds. They stand only 11-12 hands in height, have never been crossed with large western horses.
These horses have been shown to be genetically similar to Miyako and Tokara horses. Today, they are considered critically endangered with only a few remaining specimens, although the exact number is unknown.
Why are Japanese horse breeds so rare?
Horses have been in Japan for over a millennium. But during the Meiji period, which spanned from 1868 to 1912, attempts were made to increase the size of the relatively small Japanese horses by cross-breeding them with much larger breeds from the West. Japan needed bigger horses for the draft work, and this seemed to be the solution.
To that end, pure stallions of Japanese breeds were ordered to be gelded, also known as castration. This mandate was known as the Edo Mandate. Meanwhile, Japanese mares, female horses, were crossed with Western breeds to create these new, larger horses. While this had the expected effect, the process had a more widespread side effect. By the end of the Meiji era, many purebred Japanese horse breeds had died out completely, never to be seen again.
Fortunately, not every Japanese breed was destroyed in this way. A select few breeds have managed to avoid this fate in some areas of the country; Mainly, the breeds are located exclusively in the South and North Islands and the Cape.
Difference Between Japanese and Western Breeds
Each horse breed is unique and has certain traits that are particular to them, but all Japanese breeds have certain traits that set them apart from breeds that have traditionally been in the West.
For example, despite efforts during the Meiji period, Japanese horses are still generally much smaller than Western breeds. Often, they are also classified as ponies.
Another major difference is that Japanese breeds have incredibly hard hooves. Horses in the West wear metal shoes to protect their feet. But horses are rarely cast in Japan because their hooves are so hard that they do not require horseshoes. In the coldest regions, some of these horses are provided with shoes made of straw, but this is a far cry from the hard metal shoes we are used to in the West.
Perhaps the biggest difference between Japanese horses and Western breeds is prevalence. There are not many Japanese horses left yet. Most of the Japanese breeds are endangered and face the real possibility of extinction. To protect them, many of these breeds are labeled as prefectural treasures, but their numbers are still declining.
Wild and Domestic Horses in Japan
Even though the horse population in Japan is small, you can still find both domesticated and wild horses throughout the country. Many wild horses are found in national parks, where they are protected and have been living in the wild for many years. Different regions of the country are home to specific breeds that can only be seen in those places.
For many Japanese breeds, you can find domestic and feral populations. However, some of these breeds are so few in number that they are below single digits. Thanks to restoration efforts, there is hope that these breeds will make a comeback and not disappear from the world forever.
Horses may not be a creature you usually associate with Japan, but they have a rich and long history in the country. Found in mainland Japan and many of its coastal islands, there are several remaining Japanese horse breeds, all of which are largely unknown in the West. Although they almost became extinct during the Meiji period due to the Edo mandate, which jailed all stallions in order to mate with the larger western breeds, many of these Japanese breeds are making a slow, steady comeback. Hopefully, one day, some of them may be raised to the critically endangered status that most of these Japanese breeds share.